Friday, June 26, 2015

A Sticky Situation...

Good intentions can still lead to pad replacement...

This week, we visited our repair technician, Rachel Baker, just after she finished replacing six pads on a rather healthy flute that has been in the shop regularly for maintenance.  So, it seemed a bit odd to us...  Six pads all at once?  What happened?

Last week, we shared a post about how you can rip pads by polishing your flute if you use too much cloth and let it swipe the pads.  Oddly enough, this week's pad situation came from the customer cleaning his pads.  He had used a solution of some sort that is supposed to clean the pads, but, unfortunately, the pads were destroyed.  We weren't sure what exactly happened -- but neither was Rachel.  She reminded us that pads can be damaged not only by putting something (like this solution) on them, but also in the technique used to clean them.  For instance, many of us had been taught over the years to close the key on something like a dollar bill and pull it through to swipe the pad.  Unfortunately, in that case, there are two things to avoid: pulling something through the closed key cup and using a dollar bill.  If you pull something through the closed cup, the friction against the delicate pad skin can cause it to rip.  Also, dollar bills are not exactly the cleanest materials...  Using ungummed cigarette paper is best, and you definitely want to press -- not pull!  To review the proper technique, click here to read our previous post titled, "Sticky Pad Remedy."

Although cleaning your pads at home may seem like an interesting task, it really is best to leave the cleaning to the professionals.  Rachel also reminded us that, "if your pad is sticking, there's a reason for it," and the remedy lies in the hands of your repair technician.  However, you can at least try to alleviate the problem while you wait for your repair appointment by carefully and properly using cigarette paper.  Of course, if your pads are not sticking, and cleaning them sounds like something that wouldn't hurt, well, again -- resist the temptation and call your repair technician for his/her opinion.  Your flute will thank you for making that call!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Torn Pads from Polishing -- Part II

Arrows point to three keys with torn pads.

We had a flute come in to the shop that had not one. not two, and not even three -- but four torn pads.  Three of the pads were in a row, and the fourth was on the back (next the thumb key).  What was the cause of this mass number of torn pads? Well, the owner did not mention that there were any torn pads, so s/he may not have even known.  However, after an inspection by our technicians, it looked as though the pads had been torn by repeated swipes of the polishing cloth. Given that the pads were torn on the front edge, it's fairly safe to conclude that the tears came from either repeated long strokes of the cloth wiping the tubing and catching the pads, or it could have been from attempts to clean the sides of the tone holes with too much cloth.

In a previous post titled "Torn Pads from Polishing," we discovered that there is definitely a safe technique and approach to wiping your flute, and you should try to stay away from the tone holes.  Whereas the intentions of cleaning the outside of the flute with a cloth are good, the gesture could cause damage if the cloth is not controlled and if too much cloth is used. Click here to review the "Torn Pads from Polishing" post, which also includes photos of how best to use the cloth for polishing.

Clos-up on torn pads.
Fourth torn pad
The right amount of cloth to use.
Using a cloth against sides of tone holes puts you at risk for rubbing against pads and tearing them.  Don't do this!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Telltale Sounds?

Even handmade professional flutes have normal key or mechanism noises.

As much as we might not want to fix something that suddenly becomes noisy, chances are that the noise is an indication of a problem.  For instance, if you are driving and hear a strange noise, it's very possible that the car needs a repair.  So, we wondered -- what about flutes?  Are there noises that might indicate something needs to be fixed?  We spoke with Powell's repair technician, Rachel Baker, to find out...

Rachel said that in the natural course of playing flute, most people begin on a student flute and eventually move up to a professional level, handmade flute.  The student and intermediate (or step-up) flutes will generally have mechanisms that are "noisier" than handmade flutes because of differences in materials and mechanism.  For instance, she told us that the tolerances on the student mechanism do not need to be as high as on a handmade professional model, so the mechanism itself is usually "noisier."  Student flutes also use adjustment screws that can produce a metal-on-metal noise.  However, these noises are normal, and flutists become accustomed to theses sounds, so if they move up to a handmade flute, they may not even notice any "unusual" noises.

With handmade professional flutes, there are a few things that might indicate issues that need to be repaired.  Noises to look out for include "sticking" noises from sticky pads.  In this case, it might also be an indication that the flute itself needs to be cleaned since the sticking noise could be from "grime" on the pads, tops of tone holes, or both.  Also, if the mechanism hasn't been oiled in a while, you might notice a "clanking" noise.  If something like a paper adjustment or key tail felt falls off, this can produce a noticeable  metal-on-metal noise.  And, if you hear a buzzing noise, Rachel said it could be a loose mechanism, loose solder, or pretty much any number of things.  She said that noise from something that needs to be repaired will definitely become more obvious as time goes on...

However, professional handmade flutes do have their fair amount of normal noises that are certainly no cause for alarm. She told us that any normal "noise' would not be heard over your own playing -- and definitely not by the audience.  As always, if you do hear something unusual, make sure to contact your repair technician sooner rather than later!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Keeping It Clean - Part II

Grey microfiber cloth inside case cover of a new Powell flute

We recently had a customer ask about how one should go about cleaning their microfiber cloths, and in an earlier post, we discussed a few options.  Follow this link to read that post, titled "Keeping It Clean."

However, in addition to the cleaning methods we discussed before, we've discovered yet another helpful product specifically for cleaning microfiber cloths: MicroRestore Microfiber Detergent.  Powell's Repair Technician, Rachel Baker, shared this one with us.  Although she ran across the product in car detailing shops, she said that you can purchase it online now, too.  The product description from reads as follows:

Micro-Restore is an optimized blend of chelating agents, surfactants, and builders in an aqueous system. It provides excellent cleaning performance to effectively remove stubborn soils and oily residue from microfiber, cotton and chamois material. Micro-Restore emulsifies dirty motor oil, greasy soils, car wax and protein stains, and suspends them for complete removal in the rinse cycle. Restores like new performance through several hundred cleanings.
Why is Micro-Restore better than your common household detergent? Micro-Restore is better than your common household detergent because most detergents and laundry soaps have some form of bleach and fabric softener included in their formulas (even when they say they don't there are small traces). Over time bleach breaks down the micro-fibers, and fabric softeners clog the microscopic pours that make microfiber so effective, rendering the microfiber product less effective with each washing.

Not only will Micro-Restore extend the life of your microfiber, but it's special blend of chelating agents, surfactants, and builders will more effectively remove the heavy residue (wax, oil, grease, break dust, and other chemicals) that becomes implanted in microfiber products when used in heavy cleaning situations (car care).

Directions: Add 2 ounces to standard size (8 gallon) loads. For larger loads or heavily soiled laundry, add 3-6 ounces. As a prespotter: dilute 1 part concentrate with 3 parts water. Apply to stain and launder as usual.

It is available through many sites online, including the MicrofiberTech websiteAmazon, Detailer's Domain, Detailed Image, and

Sunday, May 31, 2015

A Clean Tenon is a Happy Tenon

Ever feel like your headjoint has mysteriously become harder and harder to fit smoothly into the barrel? It may seem perplexing, but there is a very simple and likely culprit that can really make the headjoint excessively tight.  What might it be?  Grime! 

Headjoint tenons and the flute's barrel can accumulate all kinds of dirt and grime from everyday wear and tear.  As things get dirtier and it becomes harder to assemble the flute, some people are prone to grease up the headjoint tenon with something like cork grease or other lubricating oils and creams.  Don't do it!  The creams, greases, and oils will build up on the tenon and inside the barrel, attracting more dirt, dust and grime.  If it becomes difficult to assemble the flute, forcing the parts together could lead to damage.  So, make sure to keep your headjoint tenon and the inside of your barrel clean.  What do you need for this?  Well, just a simple, untreated microfiber cloth.  To clean the headjoint tenon, simply wipe the outside with the cloth.  For the inside of the barrel, cover your finger with the cloth and gently wipe the inside of the barrel.

Tenon fit issues are not restricted to headjoints, though.  Think about your body tenon and footjoint.  Has it become increasingly difficult to put the footjoint on?  Grime strikes this area as well – both on the body tenon and inside the top of the footjoint. Also, make sure to resist the temptation to put any type of grease, cream, or oil on the body tenon.  Just as is the case with the headjoint tenon, these lubricating substances will attract more dust and dirt and then build up on the body tenon and inside the top of the footjoint.
So, make sure to keep things from getting grimey.  Keeping your tenons and the areas where they connect clean (inside the barrel and footjoint) is a simple strategy for helping your flute stay happy and healthy!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Take a Stand - Part 2

Stand and footjoint
This week, our repair technician, Rachel Baker, received a call from a customer who had been experiencing mechanical problems with her footjoint.  The flute was shipped to Powell, and when Rachel opened the case, she found that there was a flute stand kept inside the footjoint.  The extra length of the stand also made for a very tight fit in the case, which ultimately was not good for the mechanism

Although there are some stands that are advertised as being small enough to keep inside the flute, it's actually more of a hazard than a convenience to store the stand this way.  You never want to leave anything in your flute while it is in the case (click here to read more in our previous post titled "No Extras Needed"), as the risk for damaging your flute is very high.  Also, if you'll recall from our previous post titled "Take a Stand" (click here to read it), one can inadvertently damage their flute if they are not placing it on the stand properly.  Now we can see that there is another situation where a stand could cause damage even without any motion of the flute going on/coming off the stand!  So, although it may seem convenient to have a stand that fits in the flute, it's still best to keep that stand stored separately and simply enjoy the convenience of its small, slender design.

The stand may fit in the flute, but you don't want to keep it this way in the case!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Flute and Focal Distonia

This week, we stopped by the repair shop and found a very different Powell in for an overhaul.  Repair Technician, Rachel Baker, told us that the flute belongs to a customer who has focal distonia, a condition which limits her ability to curve her left hand and fingers.  According to the National Institutes of Health, focal distonia in musicians is often called "musician's distonia," and it is described as follows:
Musician's dystonia is a form of task-specific focal dystonia characterized by muscle cramps and spasms that occur while playing a musical instrument. This condition can affect amateur or professional musicians, and the location of the dystonia depends on the instrument. Some musicians (such as piano, guitar, and violin players) develop focal hand dystonia, which causes loss of fine-motor control in the hand and wrist muscles.
The customer allowed us to share the photos of her flute, which you will see below.  Although it is a Powell, the modifications on the instrument were done outside of Powell. As for the task of an overhaul on the instrument, Rachel told us that it should be pretty straightforward since the extensions and "crutch" for the left hand are removable.  She said that this is particularly helpful if the customer wants to sell the flute at any point.  You'll notice below that the thumb keys have also been modified, and although these modifications (unlike the others for the left hand fingers) are permanent,  Rachel said that she would still be able to remove these keys to perform the overhaul.

With the modified flute, the customer is able to play comfortably despite her focal distonia.  She hoped that we would share the images so that others with the condition will know that it is possible to continue playing!  For more information on focal distonia, follow this link to the full page on the National Institutes of Health website.

Front of flute has removable extensions and "crutch."
Rachel demonstrates the left hand position with the extensions.
Thumb key modifications.